Magical Thinking

As part of a new series ‘Routes to independence’ #RouteMap we explore the competing ideas and options for gaining self-determination, looking at parliamentary, extra-parliamentary, conventional and unconventional ways forward. Rory Scothorne explores problems with the idea of ‘Maxing the Yes’.

Slavoj Žižek once observed that “on today’s market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol,” and so on. In Scotland we might add: hegemony without power. How else to describe Scotland’s nationalist movement, which seems to expand its dominance of the political scene on a daily basis, yet cannot secure a legitimate vote on its most fundamental goal?

Žižek argues that this pervasive “virtual reality” reflects a new, self-limiting hedonism where “everything is permitted, you can enjoy everything, but deprived of its substance which makes it dangerous.” This was always the neoliberal genius of devolution: a means for Scots to express – and even enjoy – their own distinctive political identity, which simultaneously withheld from nationalism the thing that makes it dangerous – state-making power.

Some nationalists don’t even notice the difference. Everyone has stories of school friends offered a “joint” stuffed with shreds of innocent greenery who would hazily proclaim its effects, sometimes even after the big reveal. Scottish nationalists are still puffing away on a damp, tasteless wad called the “sovereignty of the Scottish people” several months after Boris Johnson waved away Nicola Sturgeon’s request for a “Section 30” order like a passing cloud of smoke.

Another request for a limited expansion of Holyrood’s borrowing powers from Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes – more modest than even Scottish Labour’s 2019 manifesto proposals – has been similarly rebuffed by Rishi Sunak. As polls for independence now suggest, these denials offer a sort of perverse placebic thrill in themselves, in a wider culture where disempowerment and exclusion are virtues. But those polls are still an effect of powerlessness, not a solution to it.


The phenomenon of politics as virtual reality isn’t uniquely Scottish. It is a feature of “post-democratic” politics worldwide, as the global loosening of regulations on capital has produced a drastic shrinkage in what even the most powerful states can and can’t do with their last dregs of sovereignty. But “post-democratic” implies that there was at some previous point a “democratic” politics in Scotland. In fact, the two arrived at the same time. When democracy shuffled into Scottish public life in 1999, it did so with a manacled jangle, prevented from running away with itself by the iron link of globalisation and Westminster supremacy.

The result has been a politics increasingly defined – to a globally unmatched extent – by mere representation. It doesn’t matter that Scotland cannot stretch its constitutional legs without permission, nor that almost all the key economic powers with which we might gather some momentum towards real self-determination have been held at British or European levels. So long as the Scottish Government can ensure that our political desires are represented and spoken for, it doesn’t matter if they are never met.

But what desires are being represented? Certainly not “popular sovereignty” in any meaningful sense. Most people gave up on collective power long ago, for understandable reasons. Reclaiming even a fragment of mass agency, after decades of right-wing revolution, endangers those very spaces ‘beyond’ politics – friendships, families, work, culture, identity – into which humanity has retreated from neoliberalism’s onslaught.

The common unionist refrain that the last independence referendum “divided families and friends” is part of the right’s effort to exploit this retreat: how dare the nationalists politicise people’s refuge from the daily disempowerment of post-democratic politics? Right-wing culture war turns these last, desperate barricades of collective life into further ammunition to be used against those trying to defend it, and blames its defenders for the bombardment.

Manufacturing cConsent

Scottish nationalism’s continued advance in spite of these tactics reflects the particular power of nationhood to link these private reservoirs of meaning to their public defence: observe Sturgeon’s repeated discussion in recent interviews of the immense burden of her political responsibility. Much of that burden is genuine, especially when it comes to running those administrative elements of the government that keep things like healthcare and education running; but that’s not why she talks about it so much.

What Sturgeon offers to the Scottish people is a means of transferring, to someone more qualified and convincing than themselves, the grim, alienating work of publicly insisting on basic human decency in the face of its growing impossibility. As her Government’s prioritisation of house-buyers over renters suggests, that doesn’t mean she ever has to live up to her rhetoric. Again, Sturgeon’s soaring approval ratings are a register of disempowerment, not a way out of it. The impossibility is factored in.

The excitement around recent independence polling has very little to do with the prospects for its political realisation, insofar as ‘realisation’ means the achievement of independence. The polling, to an astonishing extent, is the political realisation; for a sizeable contingent of the nationalist movement the mere demonstration of support is the goal. This is why polling figures are reported so enthusiastically on the front cover of The National, in full-page primary colours that transfigure data into spectacle. Spectacle, Guy Debord wrote, is “the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity.” Its “means are simultaneously its ends.” It “aims at nothing other than itself.” The gigantic text-image of “YES MAJORITY: 52%” that dominates the newsstand is both the promise of self-determination and the full extent of it, in a post-democratic world where we have nothing to hope for but hope itself.

For decades, more fundamentalist nationalists have been enraged that the nation they believed in did not believe in itself, and insisted that there must be some conspiracy to divert Scotland from its natural, sovereign course. For many of these people, the new polling majorities for independence represent not years of careful persuasion and compromise – politics, in other words – but a divine revelation of the timeless national spirit. The National’s readers derive far more meaning from the quantification of their cause in polling numbers and election results than they do from the messy, compromised politics hidden in the data. This ‘grassroots’ nationalism is characterised by a kind of passive idealism, measuring its success in terms of self-confident opinion, not power. Each further denial of power by Westminster only heightens the thrill of martyrdom, which then seeks anxiously to validate itself at the only possible terminus of national opinion: the ballot box. In devolution’s sophisticated system of manufacturing consent, powerlessness breeds its own legitimation.

Political alchemy

This is perhaps the most generous way of understanding the new ruse to “game” Scotland’s electoral system to secure a pro-independence supermajority in 2021. The proposal is that independence supporters split their constituency and list votes between the SNP and a largely identikit “independence party” to “Max The Yes”. “Maxing” the Yes in this case means achieving a level of parliamentary representation for independence that substantially outstrips its actual popular support (something that has already been the case for years). What is baffling about this scheme is its overlap with a “Plan B” approach to independence strategy: the latter, which proposes extra-constitutional means of pressuring the UK Government, is rightly founded on the assumption that there is no level of Holyrood mandate for independence that Westminster has to obey. The relationship between “Max The Yes” and “Plan B” might be understood as an attempt to convert the artificial spectacle of an overwhelming electoral “mandate” into overwhelming extra-parliamentary force. If Holyrood defines the nation, and Holyrood has an overwhelming independence majority, then maybe through the alchemy of electoral faith the nation will stir itself into existence and take to the streets.

This is not serious political strategy but magical thinking, a collective derangement of the terminally online that has been whispered into reality by a handful of politicians, commentators and activists pursuing their own agendas, from anti-trans factionalism to Salmondista pot-stirring. As far as achieving independence is concerned, the problem with “Plan B” is that Scotland’s cautiously parliamentary brand of nationalism does not translate naturally into militancy. In fact, by threatening to re-politicise the world ‘outside’ representation, it directly undermines the SNP’s successful promise to speak on Scotland’s behalf. “Max the Yes”, meanwhile, is even more self-destructive. By calling the representative legitimacy of Holyrood into question, it undermines the whole edifice on which nationalism bases its popular appeal. The UK Government and unionist parties will broadcast Holyrood’s faltering legitimacy to the world, and blame the nats for wrecking devolution.

Whether that is how Scottish voters will see it doesn’t matter; the people who matter are the English voters who, until recently, had become increasingly comfortable with the idea that the Scottish people were genuinely moving towards independence through the legitimate, British institutions of devolution. With those institutions delegitimised as a nationalist stitch-up, it will be even easier for UK Governments to justify ignoring – and perhaps even repressing – Scottish demands in the eyes of English voters.

Decaf nation

Since the 1970s, the Scottish nationalist movement has gradually moved towards the realisation that Scotland’s cultural identity is insufficient to mobilise people behind a break from Britain. Instead, independence must be a means to an end. Nicola Sturgeon has talked of two sides to her nationalism – “existential” and “instrumental”. The SNP have adopted a “social democratic” identity. The “Yes” campaign gave room to the Scottish Greens, the SSP and non-party groups who made explicitly political arguments for independence, expanding the issue beyond its identitarian base.

The trajectory of the Yes movement since 2014 has abandoned most of this progress and returned nationalist ideology to the world of existential self-affirmation, its demonstrations decorated with only the most vacuous national iconography: saltires, lions rampant and unicorns. Some in that movement are now trying to replace the firmly pro-independence Scottish Greens – who want to actually do something with independence – with a fundamentalist party that boasts all the ideological nuance of an accounting scam. Nationalism’s ongoing electoral success is – and will be – in spite of these people; its triumphs are powered by the stupidity, cynicism and nihilism of English politics, and the relative intelligence, principle and commitment of its existing representatives in the SNP and the Scottish Greens. The SNP’s only major strategic failure has been not politically educating the mass movement they stirred into life just under a decade ago.

The reason independence still feels so far away to so many is not because the SNP are not being bold enough, but because the Scottish people have thus far demonstrated neither the means nor the will to overpower the British state for the sake of independence – or anything else. Indeed, beyond their electoral representation and the occasional public spectacle, it is hard to find evidence that the “Scottish people” even exist as a meaningful political force.

Scotland, in that sense, is just another facet of our virtual reality: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol, a nation without a people. It should come as no surprise that its nationalism has now produced a politics without a strategy.

Comments (30)

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  1. Donald McGregor says:

    I get your points and I can’t be attracted to the magical thinking behind the abandonment of a list vote for the SNP. But really are you not telling us about ‘something else’ that is wrong with us? And that everyone else is the same?
    I’d rather see the next chapter, of explanation of what practical steps you advocate and are taking to effect change.
    Me? I’m just talking to people and going on the odd march.

  2. John MacDiarmid says:

    Fascinating article.

    I am probably being dense but how can Scottish nationalism be conceptualised as “coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol” when a growing majority support the tangible goal of independence. Surely this is an affirmation of a belief in Scottish national sovereignty? Can it not easily be argued that the strategy of the SNP has been to demonstrate that the instrumental change that many Scots support is only achievable through an affirmation of that essentialist belief? In other words, they have convinced the electorate that they wanted caffeinated coffee after all.

    Thanks again,

    John MacDiarmid

  3. SleepingDog says:

    On the question of political timing, under draconian British imperial secrecy, insiders may have a privileged view of what is floating down the declassification pipeline that the general public do not. The weakness of the rotten system is its need to hide its true face. A case in point seems to be the recent Palace Papers which the Queen tried to eternally embargo like the rest of royal correspondence between monarchs and prime ministers. The fiction goes that the Queen is outside politics, which is absurd. The constitutional monarchy is politics (and, in everyday terms, extreme right-wing politics at that). A reluctant and selective release of papers does not prove that the Queen did not order the removal of an Australian Prime Minister. However, the insistence of keeping royal correspondence with ministers secret from the public (the early Georgian letters have only recently been vetted and selectively released) is a monstrous denial of the historical record and an arch-criminal abuse of power.

    It is only reasonable that the defenders of the British imperial state are most aware of its weak points, and the tenacity with which they fight any royal revelations is testament to the Achilles heel of the Establishment, and the position of the Royals as the capstone in the majestic arch of state secrecy and undemocratic power through the very-much-alive royal prerogative, privy council, and immense centralization of power away from the people.

    The British Empire was never dismantled; Scotland is still a part of it, and Scots are its subjects. I agree with the article’s point about the necessity for political education. I would add that gearing up public demands for political transparency and complete access to digitized historical records (possibly under an international body to try to minimize the effects of official secrecy) are also in the interests of both democracy and very likely Independence. To stay in the union is to remain complicit in the manifold crimes of Empire, crimes including covering up past crimes. This is not a party political or even ideological issue. It is a moral one.

    1. Paul Carline says:

      A sound analysis. Sectarian party politics only impede the birth of what is really needed here in Scotland, as virtually everywhere else in this sorry world – genuine democracy i.e. popular sovereignty. Any purely representative system, with or without PR, is a denial of democracy. At best we are democrats for one day every four or five years. Even casting our vote in a corrupt undemocratic system is a repetition of the reality that we have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage (or should that be ‘politics’?).

      An independent Scotland with an unchanged distribution of power – perhaps even more centralised, if that is possible – would change little of any importance. We would presumably be taken back into an EU that apparently aspires to be an empire, one which has already claimed the ‘right’ to ‘intervene’ in a range of countries in North Africa. Scottish regiments would still become members of the new Unified Defence Force in the making (which incidentally makes nonsense of Brexit).

      It’s a question as to whether anyone actually cares about democracy in today’s Scotland. Where is the popular resistance to the tyrannical (and evidence-less) ‘lockdown’, distancing and mask-wearing ordinances?

      The one shining light of democracy in Europe (not perfect by any means) is Switzerland, where popular sovereignty actually means something. The Swiss were able to force a referendum on the new ‘Pandemic Law’ proposed by the then national government in 2010 (a government of 7 persons from four political parties!). The entire provisions of that law (including, to my surprise, the expression – in English! – of ‘social distancing’; now where did that come from?) were published in 2010. The referendum – forced by a mere 50,000 signatures of support – took place in 2013. Unfortunately, 60% of the voters (on a turnout of 42% – so less than half of the electorate) voted to approve the law – which then only came into effect in 2016. The Swiss thus had nearly ten years to prepare themselves for COVID-19. In stark contrast, the British people had the clearly long-prepared provisions thrust on them virtually overnight – after Ferguson’s appallingly inept forecasts had been published.

      The only question for Scots – or anyone, in any country in the world – is: do you want to have an effective say in the way your country is organised; or are you happy for major decisions about the way you lead your life to continue to be made by a handful of people who, it would seem, have an agenda that has little to do with universal welfare – and nothing at all to do with democracy.

      Governments do not generally relinquish power voluntarily (in Switzerland it took a mass popular uprising to force the hand of a government which, as usual, represented the interests of finance, banking and industry) so it would be vain to hope that real democracy would ever be bestowed as a gift. It would have to begin small – at the local level, where decisions directly affecting the local community should be made by residents. Direct democracy is based on the principle that decisions are taken at the lowest practical level. In terms of the current ‘pandemic’, there was no good reason for the same rules to be forced on the whole of the country. The USA’s federal system allowed individual states to choose their own provisions. Switzerland has 26 cantons, each with its own government and parliament and separate constitution, with a wide diversity of local provisions. However, because the new pandemic law had been passed at the national level, its rules and provisions did apply to the whole country.

      Other smaller countries in Europe – including Estonia and Slovenia – have introduced elements of direct democracy. There is no good reason why Scotland should not follow their example. But the fundamental requirement is for people to choose between accepting responsibility for their own lives or leaving it to a tiny handful of ‘representatives’ (who do not represent) to make the important decisions for them, as if they were still children.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Paul Carline, my view is that direct/deliberative democracy is likely to be hard work for most people, although probably it gets easier with practice, and some connective technologies should help. We have had a renewed focus during pandemic lockdown on how much time we spend on various activities. How many hours per week would you (or anyone else) suggest that (would-be) citizens should be spending on learning the skills, informing themselves, discussing, decision-making and so forth? It will be easier for generations taught the skills for collective decision-making from an early age, and I understand that the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence is intended to support this on at least a basic level (children getting involved in decisions about their lessons, and in the running of their schools).

  4. Carole Ross says:

    I’m confused. The ‘Magical Thinking’ refers to the contents of this post, right? Or is that wishful thinking? An analysis which includes only marginal reference to the constitutional stranglehold that Scotland finds itself in?

    Let me add to end of the second last paragraph. I think what you really wanted to say is ‘… it is hard to find evidence that the “Scottish people” even exist as a meaningful political force, [now that they no longer vote for BLiS].

    Rock on, Rory. It is always helpful to know what Unionists are thinking. Meanwhile you can always recycle to reassure the readers of the New Statesman.

  5. Julia Gibb says:

    Well the article retains it’s malignant property – bullshit.
    In summary it appears that, unlike the brilliant author, we are all gullible idiots.

    I was once a regular visitor to this site. I now seldom visit. The article above is a great example of why the readership left the site. It appears that anyone with a grievance against the SNP can have an article posted. I am always suspicious of those who need to bring in a quote from course book and try to twist the concept towards their interpretation of reality.

    The World is out of step with Rory.

    1. Thanks Julia. The readership hasn’t left the site. The idea that ‘anyone with a grievance against the SNP can have an article posted’ is just nonsense. We publish a range of views and are a non-party affiliated outlet. That you might come across views which challenge your own beliefs is an asset not a liability. If you wan to got to a site that just confirms what you already believe there are many sites that cater for that need.

  6. George Gunn says:

    Rory is wrong. The Scottish people do exist. The idea behind the Alliance for Independence, for example, is to get more independence supporting politicians into Holyrood and Unionists out. If people want to vote Green then that is good also. The Tories exist as a parliamentary political reality because of the list. The reality is people can vote for the SNP on the list but that will not get more SNP MSP’s into Holyrood. Voting for some other independence supporting party, like the Alliance for Independence, will not affect the amount of first vote SNP MSP’s returned. Personally I am sick of watching Jackson Carlaw and Ian Murray opening their mouths and keeping us in the British Empire. The Unionists have worked the list system since the Scottish parliament was set up. What the Alliance for Independence is for, according to Dave Thomson, is to reflect voting reality in representation.

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Reflecting “voting reality in representation” would see a CON/LAB/LIB majority in Holyrood. The system currently favours the SNP. Ironically, if the proto pro-Indy parties “succeed” in taking list votes off the SNP, the result of their cunning plan will most likely be a Unionist majority in Holyrood. A high profile (relatively) split the vote campaign in 2016 saw the SNP list vote fall just a few points, but enough to lose them list seats and therefore their majority. Why would it be different this time?

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Our PR system is designed to stop any party from getting a majority of seats in the Scottish assembly and, therefore, the power to assert its will over and against the dissent of smaller minorities; to ensure ‘weak’ government, in other words, vis-à-vis civil society.

        It isn’t perfect – otherwise, the SNP wouldn’t have been able to win an overall majority of seats in 2011 – but it does go some way towards serving its purpose as a democratic safeguard. It’s certainly an improvement on the UK assembly model.

  7. Alin Scot says:

    Interesting article which I enjoyed although as an indpendence supporter for over 50 years, I had not heard of Rory Scothorne before and I looked him up after reading the article. According to Tribune magazine Rory is a Labour Party member and I find myself asking the question, would I have viewed the article differently had I known this before reading it and the answer is probably yes – which must mean anything I read written by the opposition, I see as suspect. Nevertheless, there are many valid points in the article which cannot be dismissed out of hand.

    My view is that the period 2014 to 2020 will become known as the wasted years – a time for recovery and rebuilding our movement, article quote: “The SNP’s only major strategic failure has been not politically educating the mass movement they stirred into life just under a decade ago.” With the SNP riding high in the polls, paradoxically, there is considerable restlessnesss and also some disillusionment in the lower echelons of the SNP army at a time when optimism should be to the fore.

    Even now with next year’s election looming, the “army” should be out pounding the doors with a message on what independence means but what we have at grassroots level is silence for SNP branches and the the Yes movement in general – that is a cause for concern.

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      I hope “pounding the doors” is just a metaphor. An army of Indies pounding the doors of the electorate in Covid Scotland would be politically catastrophic. Leaflets might be the more prudent way to go 🙂 .

      1. Alin Scot says:

        For goodness sake, do not take it so literally – of course no one should be “pounding” or “knocking” (see note 1) doors during Covid-19 but immediately before we should have been and after we should resume. Unfortunately before Covid we were not and after Covid there is nothing to resume.

        Note 1: In this case “knocking” doors means to ring the bell or apply a gentle tap by the means of one’s hand. It does not mean stealing the door to the chagrin of the resident which would be a vote loser.

  8. Gary Hogg says:

    Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted Scotland in various ways; the point is to change it

  9. Observer says:

    The penultimate paragraph is key here. People who previously voted for Charles Kennedy and Gordon Brown and who are now reluctantly concluding independence is the best way forward aren’t going to be confident in an atmosphere of Catalan style plebiscites or AUOB marches on London. All the SNP can do is keep winning and hope that, like Parnell, they can hold the balance of power at Westminster and make Starmer the new Gladstone. It’s a grim prospect.

  10. Me Bungo Pony says:

    A pretty dense read. Amid all my “hold on a minutes”, “ehh’s” and general ” – ‘s” , one part shone through in a blaze of sanity and clarity;

    “Some in that movement are now trying to replace the firmly pro-independence Scottish Greens – who want to actually do something with independence – with a fundamentalist party that boasts all the ideological nuance of an accounting scam. Nationalism’s ongoing electoral success is – and will be – in spite of these people; its triumphs are powered by the stupidity, cynicism and nihilism of English politics, and the relative intelligence, principle and commitment of its existing representatives in the SNP and the Scottish Greens”.

    Absolutely spot on. The SNP lost its majority in 2016 because too many of its constituency voters gave their list vote to other parties . If these myriad, pro-Indy, proto-parties drain even more of the SNP’s list vote into their own tiny ballot boxes, the most obvious winners will be the Unionist parties that hoover up the lost SNP list seats. It is unlikely any of them will gain a seat themselves. RISE were all over the internet prior to the 2016 election with their “SNP/RISE” split vote cunning plan ….. yet very, very few people actually voted for them. Learn the lessons of history.

  11. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    Rock on, Rory, indeed! I find his interpretation of the moment liberating and pregnant with heuristic possibilities. We need more imaginative readings like this to ease the strangleholds by means of which the dominant ideologies of a bygone age limit the range of our perspectives going forward.

    The allusion to Žižek is particularly illuminating. Of course the ‘Scottish people’ doesn’t exist a meaningful political force; it’s a task of the nationalist project to create a ‘Scottish people’, an imagined community, out of the rich diversity of concrete communities that populate the geographical locus of power to which the project’s executives aspire.

    Drawing on his reading of Lacan, Žižek might also define ‘Scotland’ as a psychosis, a state of mind, rather than a political reality. As psychotics we hold ourselves to be exceptional (a kind of ‘elect’), attach deep or significant meaning to otherwise unremarkable happenings,and believe we must take specific actions to protect ourselves against such happenings as threats to our exceptionality.

    And this is where magical thinking comes in.

    Magical thinking is a strategy for coping with one’s psychosis. It’s the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, wishes, or actions can influence the course of events in the external world. It manifests itself in rituals and superstitions; for example, in the ritualistic language that Chris Small and George Kerevan use in their polemics, or the lucky outfits that many wear on their processional marches for independence.

    Magical thinking does work, however, Žižek himself is often criticised, as a negative dialectician in the Marxian tradition, for offering no explanation of the practical steps he would advocate and is taking to effect change. His response is that, by presenting readings that reimagine the historical moment in which we find ourselves, he is loosening the strangleholds by which the dominant hegemonies limit the range of our perspectives and, in so doing, changes that moment. This is how magical thinking can be used to ‘cure’ us of our psychoses, to not only interpret the world but to change it.

    When we become stuck within jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive dichotomies like ‘unionist vs. separatist’, ‘left vs. right’, ‘Holyrood vs. Westminster’, ‘radical vs. conservative’, ‘Yes vs. No’, magical thinking can help us overcome or go beyond the contradiction by helping us escape the hegemony of our political comfort zones and into new heuristic possibilities.

  12. Kevin Hattie says:

    A lot of the claims made in this article are above my intellectual pay-grade, so to speak. But the article was thought-provoking. I’m not really sure how to assess a claim like “Scotland, in that sense, is just another facet of our virtual reality: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol, a nation without a people.”

    1. Jacob Bonnari says:

      Don’t do yourself down Kevin. While Rory’s article contains many interesting points it’s delivered in a smarmy condescending way that suggests that he believes that he’s blessed with an intelligence greater than us all. 😉

      My other criticism of the article is that, like many of the opinion writers on BC, it offers no support for or solution to the problem that it characterises. In this it achieves only the easy part!

      Put more clearly, what Rory is suggesting is that if the independence movement is to make progress that it first needs to identify the questions to which Scottish Independence is the answer, and secondly develop arguments which persuade sceptics that it is the answer.

  13. James Mills says:

    Rory is definitely a ”glass half full ” kinda guy . He could suck the enthusiasm from a AUOB march from a decade away !

  14. James Forth says:

    Rory’s analysis of the SNP has more validity than most commentators. To much of the unionist press, the party is filled with extremists. It is nothing of the sort. It is the last successful third way party – it offers some efforts to help working class people but in a way that does not upset vested interests. So on the one hand you get baby boxes, a retention of the Education Maintenance Allowance, free tuition fees, prescriptions fees and bridge tolls. On the other, you get support for homeowners over renters, shite public transport, voting down all serious attempts at binding climate change targets and utter cowardice regarding the GRA.

    However, the tone of the this piece could be kinder. Across the world, most of humanity is governed by neo-illiberal strong men (Trump, Xin Ping, Modi, Erdogan, Duerte, Bolsonaro, Putin, Johnson, Orban, Duda) and we are governed by a well-read and decent woman from a working class background. Do you seriously blame people for being so excited? Scotland is one of the few countries on Earth led by a moral human being. That is plain reality, not virtual reality.

    Representation is important representation for Scottish working class women. Historically, they were used to being ‘represented’ by men who did not look or sound one bit like them. Many of the voters excited about Sturgeon are women. The polls you dismiss show that it is women who are driving the increased support for Yes. Dismissing that as “coffee without caffeine” is gender blind, if you ask me.

    Finally, I am hopeful that a few people will end up with egg on their face when they claim the SNP do not have a strategy. If I was a central figure in the SNP, there is no way I would play my hand at this stage. I don’t know if I am right about this though. I would advise other people to be just as cautious.

    1. Craig P says:

      >> If I was a central figure in the SNP, there is no way I would play my hand at this stage.

      It’s perfectly possible they don’t have a strategy. But… we’re only six years out from a referendum that returned a No vote, we haven’t suffered the consequences of Brexit yet, and the coming attack on Holyrood’s powers isn’t obvious to most people. Plus we’re in a pandemic. And are ruled by Boris Johnson.

      There’s more suffering to come, possibly necessary suffering, before enough people conclude the union isn’t working. Perhaps the SNP leadership are banking on that.

  15. Tim Clancey says:

    I thought this was an excellent, thought-provoking article. It will provoke and raise hackles, which is no bad thing at the moment. I’m reminded of Tony Benn’s comment about his wanting to change the system, but his cabinet colleagues only wanting to make people feel more comfortable in the system they were already in. A lot of discussion of a new indy party seems based on a premise that it will have no thoughts of how to proceed other than follow the SNP’s lead in all things. I don’t see it leading to a second indyref on that basis, given that the SNP’s management of a pro-indy majority at Holyrood in the four years since 2016 seems to have consisted of twice asking the UK government for permission to hold a second indyref, and being turned down twice.

  16. kate macleod says:

    As others have said the SNP was never interested in ceding power to a mass movement, much less nurture it and seems to have horrified by the chaotic creativity and direct democracy of the referendum.

    The SNP itself has never been ‘educated’ enough to educate others in the finer things – including a love of social and economic justice, direct and transparent democracy, Scotlands multiple cultures and languages and art, protecting its environment from the effects of climate change (in part by abandoning fossil fuels or land reform) or landowners, or of rent reform, tax reform, of prioritizing people over profits at every turn

    The SNP has not attempted to seriously nurture scotland’s sense of communal identity or attempted to heal its many historical internal splits , ie, lowland/highland , gaelic,scots,english/catholic/protestant, ethnicity and class inequality.

    As a result partly of this visionless and inert leadership and even more due to a preceding history full of divisions there is no widespread passionate sense of shared scottish identity to defend.
    Nor is anything offered by the SNP that implies independence will improve many peoples quality of life.

    There are many failures on the part of the SNP but the upshot i agree is that a will for independence that cannot be deflected by Westminister and the passionate conviction needed to defy the british state is not currently there.

  17. Post-post-post-post-structuralist twice-removed Phil says:

    Top litcrit marks for shoe-horning Shlavoj Zhlizhlek into a pedestrian article about voting possibilities. Guy Debord too. Wow. Data as spectacle. This is classic intellectual idiocy. It adds nothing to your argument because in practice the exact opposite of what you argue is taking place. Plastering an opinion poll result favourable to independence on the front page of a newspaper in a Scottish context is a disruption of any ‘spectacle’. Why have so many people reported the National being deliberately obscured by the mainstream newspapers? You have completely missed the point about Situationism! If only Guy Debord hadn’t blasted his brains out, he could have provided a little Marshall McLuhan cameo moment.
    After reading your thinly disguised hit-piece, I’m sure those who struggle with an intellectual inferiority complex are now experiencing confirmation that they really are inferior. As for actual theorists of nationalism, perhaps Benedict Anderson or Ernest Gellner, you know, scholars as opposed to name-dropping prestidigitators, there is less than nothing.
    There is little point in seriously engaging with such rambling incoherence because in arguing with it you would end up chasing so many dead-ends it would be more productive simply to write a better article; however such an ‘article’ actually might have to engage with Scotland’s distinctive culture and institutions, rather than the above word-cloud hiding in plain sight as an essay which dully moves around a few chessboard pieces whilst trying to convince less than thirty readers that a grandmaster is in da building.
    In a few years, you’ll wish you could scrub this effort from the web like a frightened graduate trying to delete their Twitter history before their first job interview. Too bad. Didn’t anyone ever warn you that ‘visibility is a trap’? Anyone?

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      ‘Visibility is a trap.’ Foucault, Discipline and Punish, in the section called ‘Panopticism’. Well worth a read.

      The visibility trap a useful metaphor by which to understand biopower, which is based primarily on the surveillance, ‘fragmentation’, and management of bodies rather than on the ‘spectacle’ of public torture and execution. Robert Owen, being opposed to corporal punishment, used biopower in the form of his ‘silent monitor’ to discipline and punish his child labourers in his mills down in New Lanark. The source of Foucault’s metaphor, however, is Jeremy Bentham; another great humanitarian, who first proposed the use of biopower instead of corporal punishment to discipline and punish convicted felons.

      The metaphor might also be useful in easing the mental cramp that’s been induced by the question of why, as Rory says, ‘it is hard to find evidence that the “Scottish people” even exists as a meaningful political force’; why, in other words, it exists only as a collection of separated individual bodies, a passive aggregate rather than an agency. The trap of visibility – panopticism – has fragmented us, made us manageable and docile.

      It might also be useful in understanding that the independence movement might itself be complicit in this fragmentation. According to Foucault, disciplined bodies become ‘the [passive] object of information, never a[n active] subject of communication’. By treating it merely as an object of information (i.e. votes) and not as a subject of communication also, the independence movement has relegated the ‘Scottish people’ to a state of immaturity as surely as Owen did his workers at New Lanark.

      As Rory says: ‘The National’s readers derive far more meaning from the quantification of their cause in polling numbers and election results than they do from the messy, compromised politics hidden in the data.’ For the fundamentalists whom he takes to task, nationhood is something that’s to be delivered by manufacturing a majority in the Scottish parliament that ‘mandates’ the use of state power to impose their will on dissenting minorities. Such tyranny is to be resisted.

      The alternative to such tyranny is to cultivate a nuanced harmony of constructive interaction among conflicting interests through a system of restrained dissonance that can accommodate diversity and dissensus short of war, which is in nobody’s interest. This kind of nationhood can’t be delivered by mandate and sanction; it can’t be ‘disciplined’. It can only be cultivated deliberatively, through a participative regime of active communication and dialogue, in which we acquiesce in our differences and respect each other’s autonomy, even if we hate each other’s guts.

      As Auld Grieve at Brounsbank used to maintain, it’s from such antisyzygies that any nation worth a damn is born and continually renews itself.

  18. Nick Bibby says:

    This is a really fascinating analysis. It chimes well with the cautious approach we tend to see to policymaking – Scots are in favour of having the power to do things differently but not of actually doing it. The handful of rather modest (and mostly rather technocratic) examples of policy divergence – tuition fees, prescriptions, free care – seem to underline this caution.

  19. Denis Munro says:

    Independence is a fraudulent project because those who lead it know very well that it would result in a reduced standard of living for every Scottish family. But they cannot say so. In 2014 they tried to obfuscate the reality by putting forward a plan, Scotland’s Future, which promised increased spending, lower borrowing and taxes remaining the same. All of this would be possible because oil would continue to sell at more than $100 a barrel, there would be a “second North Sea oil boom”, we would have a currency union with rUK, and Scotland would be “a continuing member” of the EU. All of these predictions proved to be complete nonsense.
    As they obviously cannot tell such whoppers twice a new plan will be necessary and the task of producing it fell to the so-called Growth Commission under the leadership of Andrew Wilson. What it produced was more of a sketch than a plan and it got short shrift at the SNP conference last year because it recognised the need to get Scotland’s fiscal deficit down to 3% ( not an ambitious target) and that this would require continued austerity over a period of 5 to 10 years. As Andrew Wilson himself has just said that Scotland will have the worst performing economy in the developed world the next few years will not provide an auspicious backdrop for a fresh referendum. I cannot see any wavering voters saying “I almost voted YES last time but decided, on balance, that the economic arguments didn’t stack up. But obviously things are much better now.”

  20. Jimmy Black says:

    Fascinating article which seems to accept that we are in the post democratic age and that elections produce representation for the people but not power. I’d suggest that elections can produce power when politicians are brave enough to use it. If gaming the system means that people who vote Labour, Tory or Lib Dem (or the rest) are not properly represented, then I’m against it, because for me, democracy comes before everything. And the author is right to say that the enemies of independence (he says “nationalism”) would use this to claim the mandate was compromised. But the article is massively negative about everything; nothing was ever achieved by a collective agreement that “its all hopeless and there’s no point.” And I think ithers, in Europe, see us as a democratic movement trying to achieve an independent nation and improve the governance of our country by constitutional means. South of the border many are beginning to see us as more competent than the UK government they elected.

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